Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Old 42nd Street

Starting in 1992, a group called The New 42nd Street began redeveloping historic theaters along the Deuce, making them safe for the new suburbanized, tourist-centered Times Square.

Anyway, they recently hung a banner along a portion of the street showing how it looked in 1987.

The panoramic photo comes from Battman Studios and includes the marquees of the Victory, the Lyric, the Times Square, the Apollo, and the Selwyn, along with the little shops in between. The effect is staggering, thrilling, and slightly disorienting.

The people of 2016 walk past the old Deuce, hurrying along. They look like time travelers, bent over iPhones, unaware they've gone back.

The people of 1987 appear to be a different breed of New Yorkers. No tourists. They all look up, alert and aware. They stand around. They've come to this block for porn or hot dogs or martial arts weaponry, to hustle and get hustled. To be surprised. They are not here for Applebee's.

The past and present collide. If you're like me, you'll want to slip inside the old world with its crummy marquees, its porn-theater glow, its grimy sidewalk--and, oh, the Grand Luncheonette!

That one might make you cry. I almost did, standing there, gazing in through its greasy windows, remembering.

(Remember when the Selwyn collapsed? Remember its ghost sign? "Cooped up? Feelin' low? Enjoy a movie today!" Does the new Times Square even imagine that a person might be feeling low? No low feelings allowed here.)

I have a recurring dream in which I travel back to the city of the past, most often to Times Square, with a digital camera. This banner is a bit of a dream come true.

The "New 42nd" has some information printed on the banner's end. It says, "Gone is the blighted, hostile 42nd Street landscape of 1987. Today, this legendary street at the Crossroads of the World is once more a vibrant destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike."

"Vibrant" is in the eye of the beholder. And the only reason a New Yorker might have to venture to 42nd Street today is to see this banner, to stand alongside it, and pretend that the dead has come back to life.

But, really, don't miss this.


onemorefoldedsunset said...

Crossroads of the Crass, with people clutching their phones like security blankets.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Wow, this actually gives me a reason to venture up there!

Greg said...

It was beautiful then, don't care what anyone says.

Theodore said...

I mostly applaud your work here, but the fetishization of shitty Times Square isn't part of it. If people were looking back to the 1900s - 1950s I could understand it, but I seriously doubt that you'd have spent one willing minute in Times Square from 1975- 1992. I know I didn't. Yes, the "New" Times Square is also a place where I wouldn't spend any willing time, but that doesn't mean that the TS of 30 yrs ago is better. I, for one, would love to have seen it in the hey-days of the TS of G.M. Cohan through WW!!; nothing else holds any draw but esp. the 1980s.

Unknown said...

I lived at 315 W. 57th in the early 1970's. My eight year old self could walk down to Aaron Bank's New York Karate Academy on Broadway for a 6:30 class and walk back home around 8:00, by myself! I'd pass through Times Square sometimes on the way, depending on the route chosen.My friends and I would go down to Playland all the time, and we were all under 10 years of age. So the banner's scene is very familiar to me even if it shows Times Square 15 years after I frequented the area. I remember all those theatres. I don't remember junkies or people bothering us back in '72 and '73. I DO remember the working gals in the doorways, I have a clear image of a gal wearing thigh-high purple mohair platform boots, with a purple halter and purple hotpants!

PegLeg said...

Bring back Huberts Museum!

AKA "The Freak Show".


Scout said...

"The people of 1987 appear to be a different breed of New Yorkers. No tourists. They all look up, alert and aware."

Well, yes, as one of those New Yorkers on 42nd Street in 1987 (and during the decade prior), I can vouch for that - you HAD to be alert to not be robbed or attacked.

Did I prefer 42nd Street then? Definitely yes - but I knew very few women who would willingly walk alone down that street, even during the day. I understand (as few others seem to) that what appeals to me doesn't appeal to everyone.

And in a city that's always been about money, that street didn't generate much for the municipality, and it's doom was was guaranteed.

Oh, one other thing - don't kid yourself. There were plenty of tourists in Times Square and on 42nd Street even in 1987. This one photo might not show them, but they were there in droves.

FrankieTimes said...

Dear Jermiah, first just wanted to thank you for maintaining this garden of memories of a receding NYC. And for locating the weeds, and celebrating them. As we all know one man's weed is another man's wysteria. This web site is an online testimonial to what was once the world's greatest offline space: New York City!

Regarding Times Square, I couldn't disagree with Theodore more. I spent many "willing minutes" around Times Square in the late 80s; and even when I ceased to spend time there part of the consciousness of greatness in NYC was its high lows, rather than merely its high highs. Oh the weeds, the weeds in all of their beauty.

I understand that 80s era Times Square may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but can a city be a city without an irresistibly rancid and odoriferous armpit, earnestly commercialised in a middle finger to those parts of the world where sex is suppressed, forbidden, or strictly privatized, and even punished (not least in the beautiful and horrible Middle East, were people are stoned to death for sexual curiousity and activity)? What is Paris without Pigalle and the Bois de Boulogne? What is Madrid without Strong Centre, and the Casa de Campo? Ok so there is my rant.

I lived on 49th between 9th and 10th in 1989 until 1991, and thrilled to see the hookers in their furry fox boots and the johns in their striped suit and white vinyl belts getting their morning coffee in styrefoam cups (this was PRE starbux). And yes for many willing minutes, as a horny 20 something, I willingly pumped quarters into the booths in these dens of dildos. Who knew who would be on the other side of the sliding window: an Egyptian construction worker, a Panamanian dentist? My philosophy professor? I suppose it all had to pass. I do not resent the present. But I mourn the past.

I try not to regret the passing away of the place as it was, and I accept the endless destruction of the past as inevitable, and only a prelude to further churning. But the randomness of the old Times Square was a marvel, and it is gone forever. Now with locational apps all the unexpectedness of that city location has been replaced by indoor streetwalking. So be it. This change will also be changed. I love your blog.

I end with a quotation from Cafavy (who mourned the passing away of Alexandria in Egypt):
He swears every now and then to begin a better life.
But when night comes with its own counsel,
its own compromises and prospects—
when night comes with its own power
of a body that needs and demands,
he goes back, lost, to the same fatal pleasure.